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Conservation Science for a Healthy Planet

Carbon accumulation by US forests may slow over the next 25 years

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Carbon accumulation by US forests may slow over the next 25 years

Posted: 12 Nov 2015 09:35 AM PST

Currently, the carbon sequestered in US forests partially offsets the nation’s carbon emissions and reduces the overall costs of achieving emission targets to address climate change — but that could change over the next 25 years. The accumulation of carbon stored in U.S. forests may slow in the future, primarily due to land use change and forest aging — with the rate widely varying among regions — according to findings by U.S. Forest Service scientists published today in the journal Scientific Reports. Future declines in forest carbon sequestration could influence emission reduction targets in other sectors of the economy and impact the costs of achieving policy goals. The study also found that policies that encourage retaining or expanding forest land could enhance carbon sequestration levels in U.S. forests over the next 25 years. The researchers found that land use change strongly influences the amount of forest carbon stored. One of the scenarios they ran simulated the effects of policies that would encourage the retention or expansion of forest land as a way to enhance carbon sequestration. They found that afforesting or restoring 19.1 million acres over the next 25 years, a plausible goal in light of historical conservation efforts such as the USDA Conservation Reserve Program, could yield significant gains in carbon sequestration over that period. “Policymakers interested in reducing net carbon emissions in the U.S. need information about future sequestration rates, the variables influencing those rates, and policy options that might enhance sequestration rates,” said Wear. “The projection scenarios we developed for this study were designed to provide insights into these questions at a scale useful to policymakers.”

 

David N. Wear, John W. Coulston. From sink to source: Regional variation in U.S. forest carbon futures. Scientific Reports, 2015; 5: 16518 DOI: 10.1038/srep16518

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